One of the greatest apex predators of the sea are orcas (also known as killer whales) and recently they have been smashing into sailboats. Once thought to be a seemingly rare event, these attacks are now occurring almost daily.
Last year, Rui Alves launched a website called orcas.pt. This tracks the orca encounters with boats off the coast of Portugal and also near the Strait of Gibraltar.
Taking a deep dive into the data reveals that the incidence of orca-boat collisions has been rising in the area over recent months, and this is thought to only increase. In June alone, there has been at least one orca attack every day so far. The website shows that there have been 12 attacks and 12 extra sightings of orcas between June 1 and the time of the report. In fact, on some days there have been multiple attacks, with four on June 3 and two on June 8.
And like @CriminalUnionFW said…. They’re ORCA-NIZING.
Rui Alves’ website is a fascinating one, which aims to raise awareness and help sailors to avoid the hotspots.
Most of the interactions are with sailboats – 72 percent of the attacks seem to be from monohulls – whereas 67 percent of the cases are boats with spade rudders.
But, how did this begin in the first place?
This is not a new event, even back in 2020, orcas were seen pursuing and ramming multiple boats.
There are two hypotheses of why these orcas are striking these vessels, Dr Alfredo López Fernandez, of the Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlántica, told The Guardian. The first is that it is a response to a bad situation, in which one or several orcas are now trying to stop the boats so it does not happen again – this behavior has been seen in the adults. The other theory is that the orcas are playing – they have invented something new and are having a whale of a time repeating it – this behavior matches the youngsters of the group.
For the latter theory, it is not the first time that this has been seen. Back in 1987, there was one group of orcas that introduced a fashion trend among the youngest of plopping a dead salmon on their heads. Then, as soon as it started, it stopped – similar to human fast fashion trends.
The boat-smashing orcas have been nicknamed Gladis, after their original scientific name Orca gladiator, and there are at least 15 individuals involved. It is suspected that one individual, Gladis Blanca (or White Gladis), may have had a bad collision with a vessel, along with other Gladis whales also having traumatic experiences with boats.
Currently, the advice is that in the presence of orcas, people in boats should slow down and stop the engine, contact the area officer, take their hands off the wheel, and record the interaction on a phone.
At the moment, it does not seem like the attacks will be stopping any time soon.